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How Long Does an IRS Tax Refund Take?

Tax season is quickly approaching, and for many people, the highlight is receiving a refund from the IRS for the amount of income taxes they overpaid the previous year. If you’re anticipating receiving a tax refund, then you might be wondering how long it takes to receive your money.

E-filing Speeds up the Refund Process

Electronic filing of income tax returns has considerably sped up the refund process. Before e-filing was available, tax returns had to be mailed to the IRS where the information was scanned or manually entered into the system. Then the IRS issued paper checks that had to be mailed to taxpayers. This manual process could take up to two months, keeping many people anxiously waiting by their mailboxes for weeks.

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Instead of mailing your tax return to the IRS, you can now e-file your return and receive your refund much faster. When you e-file, you can also elect to receive your refund via direct deposit to your bank account, thus eliminating mail delays in the receipt of your refund.

According to the IRS, refunds can be issued to taxpayers by direct deposit as soon as eight days after tax returns are filed. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 taxpayers choosing direct deposit receive their refunds within 21 days of the date they file electronically. Keep in mind that it may take an extra few days for your bank to make funds available to you after the refund is issued electronically.

What If I Don’t File Electronically?

You can still file your income taxes the old-fashioned way by mailing in your return and receiving a paper check if you prefer. However, you won’t receive your tax refund nearly as quickly.

According to the IRS, taxpayers who mail in their returns but choose direct deposit of their refund will generally receive their refund in about three weeks. Those who e-file their returns but choose to receive a paper check in the mail will generally receive their refunds in about one month. And those who mail in their returns and choose to receive a paper check in the mail will generally receive their refunds in about two months.

IRS Refund Schedule for 2021

The chart below indicates when you could receive your income tax refund based on when the IRS accepts your 2020 tax return. Note that these are estimates and are based on accurate income tax return submissions that don’t claim tax breaks that could cause delays.

Date the IRS accepts your tax return  Earliest date that direct deposit could be made   Earliest date that check could be mailed  
February 1st  February 12th  February 19th 
February 8th  February 19th  February 26th 
February 15th  February 26th  March 5th 
February 22nd  March 5th  March 12th 
March 1st  March 12th   March 19th  
March 8th   March 19th   March 26th  
March 15th   March 26th   April 2nd  
March 22nd   April 2nd   April 9th  
March 29th   April 9th   April 16th  
April 5th   April 6th   April 23rd  
April 12th   April 23rd   April 30th  
April 19th   April 30th   May 7th  
April 26th  May 7th  May 14th 

How Can I Speed Up My Refund?

Here are three tips to help speed up receipt of your income tax refund.

  1. Keep your tax records organized. Being organized will help you file your tax return sooner while also avoiding mistakes that could delay processing of your return. For example, store all of your tax documents — such as W-2 and 1099 forms and documentation supporting itemized deductions — in one central location so they’re easy to locate when you need them. 
  2. Use tax preparation software. Tax prep software can greatly simplify and streamline the tax filing process. These programs not only include all of the IRS forms and schedules you’ll need, but they also help ensure that you follow all the current tax laws and take advantage of every potential deduction, which could boost your tax refund.
  3. File your return electronically and choose direct deposit of your refund. As detailed above, filing your return electronically and choosing to receive your refund via direct deposit instead of a check in the mail will accelerate your refund considerably. With e-filing and direct deposit, your refund could be in your bank account less than two weeks after the IRS accepts your return.

How Can I Check the Status of My Refund?

You can check on the status of your tax refund after you file your tax return by visiting the Where’s My Refund? page on the IRS website. You’ll need to know your Social Security number, filing status and dollar amount of your refund in order to get a status update. You can use this page about 24 hours after filing your tax return electronically or a month after mailing in a paper tax return.

Be sure to speak with a tax advisor if you have more detailed questions about your tax return.

The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.

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